Agent Running in the Field
by John le Carré
John le Carré, master of espionage and gifted voice actor, gives an outstanding performance narrating his 25th novel, a spy thriller set in England’s torrid summer of 2018. As Brexit and a visit from the American president create havoc, spy handler Nat has been relegated to heading British intelligence service’s substation for has-beens and screw-ups called "Haven." Nat, a champion badminton player, is challenged to a match by a young, Brexit-hating, Trump-loathing man named Ed, another of le Carré’s passionately idealistic innocents. One thing leads to another, and the rest of le Carré’s distinctive ingredients come sifting in: queasy loyalties and disillusion, enemy agents’ unholy infatuation with one another, and cynical, high-level scapegoating. Cryptic, exciting, and witty in its portrayal of mannerisms, the novel is further enhanced by its author’s delivery. His rich, woodwind baritone mutates effortlessly into arrogant old-boy bray, industrial Midlands clunk and the brittle tones of “one of those upper-class girls who grew up with ponies.” The plot does execute a few improbable maneuvers, but that is more than compensated by the perfect unity between story and narrator. (Penguin Audio, Unabridged, 9-1/2 hours)

The Big Book of the Dead
by Marion Winik
Marion Winik’s reminiscences of dead family members, friends and occasional others is as much a memoir as it is a salute to those who have lived. There is sadness here but also humor and wit and an overall feeling of engagement with life. Set in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, New Orleans and finally Baltimore, the 125 pieces evoke changes in social milieu and way of life, from Bohemianism and drug use to motherhood, widowhood and purpose. Winik narrates the book herself in a bold, pleasantly low-pitched voice, her delivery exceptionally expressive of the emotions her fine, concise writing conjures. Each person — and, in some cases, animal — is captured in an eloquent vignette, at times high spirited or melancholy and moving. Among her subjects are her mother, the golf champ; her first, much-loved husband, who lost his battle with AIDS; her stillborn baby; a philandering hookup (who actually may not be dead); Rocco, a cat; Leslie, a personable goldfish; and the man whose life taught her that it’s “necessary and gorgeous to be who you are”— which could be the central message of these marvelous portraits. (Tantor, Unabridged, 5 hours)